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Admitting pot use at U.S. border may get you banned

Marijuana users may want to be careful what questions they answer at the U.S. border, according to a lawyer in Blaine, Wash. - File
Marijuana users may want to be careful what questions they answer at the U.S. border, according to a lawyer in Blaine, Wash.
— image credit: File

Pot-smoking B.C. residents are increasingly being banned from entering the U.S. as American border guards try to stem the flow of Canadian marijuana tourists in the wake of Washington State's weed legalization vote late last year.

Blaine lawyer Len Saunders said he's seeing more cases of B.C. residents being permanently denied entry after trying to carry pot across the border, thinking it's no longer an issue.

Because marijuana is now legal to possess under state law, Canadians caught bringing less than an ounce across aren't charged, as they were in the past.

"I'm seeing no prosecutions – zero since November," Saunders said. "But there's more confusion."

What happens now, he said, is pot-packing Canucks have their stash confiscated and are then interrogated under oath about their drug-using habits.

Admit that you've ever smoked or used marijuana in your life, he said, and you can be deemed inadmissable to the U.S. because you've confessed to a crime of moral turpitude.

"The key is to not admit that you've ever used it," Saunders said, stressing he isn't counselling anyone to lie under oath.

He noted anyone could be questioned about past marijuana use at the border, whether Customs and Border Protection agents find pot on them or not.

Past studies have found a majority of B.C. residents report using marijuana at least once.

Saunders said he's increasingly had calls from Canadians deemed inadmissable over pot use who say they can't believe it happened to them and must now apply for a tough-to-obtain re-entry waiver also required for anyone with a criminal conviction who wants to return to the U.S.

A pot dispensary is expected to open in Blaine, he said, but the licence hasn't been granted yet.

"It's legal to possess," Saunders said. "So if you make it over the border you can buy it and you can use it."

Saunders noted Washington's legalization of pot doesn't extend to use by minors age 18 or under.

And anyone who brings a "truckload" of pot over the border can still expect to be prosecuted under U.S. federal law.

Ironically, he said, while an admission of marijuana use in the distant past can bar you from the U.S. for life, convicted drunk drivers face no such problem.

"If you have multiple DUIs you are admissable to the U.S.," Saunders said. "A DUI is not a crime of moral turpitude because you didn't have the intention to drive drunk. Because you were drunk."

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